Oily culture


The fossil fuel industry is strongly involved in the breaching of five of the nine planetary boundaries.

Climate change is the most catastrophic of all of these. If we rest on current plans for climate action, the most cautious models suggest an average 4C increase this century. The 5th Assessment Report of the IPCC confirmed this, with its worst case being an increase of 8.5 C by the end of century. A scenario exceeding 6 degrees of warming would be classed as ‘thermogeddon’, a state where the planet’s temperature is too hot for vertebrates to survive.

It is common to deflect from the central role played by oil in this crisis. Arguments run that the growing population is the key factor, or that we are all implicit in consuming oil, that oil is running out anyway, that far worse are coal or methane, or that biodiversity loss is a far worse problem. All of these things are somewhat true, and all part of a complex web – but oil is currently at the centre of it, as described in the diagram above.

The reduced supplies of oil are leading to ecocidal destruction in Canada, the Arctic, the South American coasts and so on. Oil-fuelled climate change is triggering emissions of methane from the Arctic tundra. Oil has produced fertilisers that power agri-business, which has enabled population growth. Protection of oil supplies has been at the core of much conflict in the past century, and is only intensifying as the supplies become more difficult to access.

Fossil fuel companies and oil-dependent countries are at the heart of an industrial-military complex that has:

  • knowingly expanded a system that is rapidly destroying the life-sustaining capacities of the planet, such that civilisation is liable to collapse this century,
  • has fought and fanned flames of wars over oil, and seems willing to continue stirring conflict as a means to exert control and frustrate efforts to build a sustainable peace,
  • has fed a misinformation machine in order to spread denial of this science, to weaken collaboration on climate action, to deflect blame from these wrongs, and to sow confusion and division.


Some might find the introduction above too controversial, political or alarmist, or might want to see facts that back up some of the claims. Part of engaging with this situation is the hard work of research and debate. Discuss this provocation, and this might involve doing some research to challenge or back up your responses to it. 

Next, make a list of all the ways that oil is implicated in your organisation’s operations, connections and work.

Do you think that your organisation should work towards being fossil free? If so, what are the best ways to lever oil out of your organisation?

See the Fossil Free movement for inspiration, aiming for 100% just transition to renewable energy sources and financial investments.

Cultural organisations can take the pledge to go oil sponsorship free.

Read more about how the oil industry is culpable. And also, an article by Andrew Gilkson on climate crime.